Buteyko and Me

The Buteyko method is counter-intuitive and alarmingly new-agey, not to mention that online resources tend to be badly translated from Russian. But Konstantin Pavlovich Buteyko was a proper physician. His method is still taught in medical schools in Russia and it’s currently covered by medical insurances in Australia.

So why not give it a try.

Basically, it involves breathing through the nose, which is what you’re recommended to do anyway. Then there’s the square breathing, which is not only an ancient, venerable and widely-taught yoga breathing technique (sama vritti pranayama), but also a totally fashionable one nowadays in your class of choice for the productive adult, be it coaching, public speaking, mindfulness or motivational-whatever. So far so good, the entire world at some point has come to the conclusion that somehow breathing through the nose and practicing square breathing is good for you.


But why exactly?

The point is that according to Buteyko we all tend to hyperventilate, especially asthmatic people. This is actually true because when you start wheezing then a chain of unfortunate events happens. I don’t want to say that you panic. I’ve been an asthmatic patient for nearly 40 years now and my reaction to wheezing is not exactly panic, I would describe it more as the urge to strangle the cigarette smoker sitting next to me (there is always one). But anyway, you feel the urge to breath more so you breathe more, more deeply, more rapidly, with increased wheezing turning into proper asthma, until you reach for your albuterol. This happens because hyperventilation decreases carbon dioxide, which sounds good but unfortunately, here comes the counter-intuitive part, carbon dioxide is needed to obtain oxygen from hemoglobin, so by trying to get more oxygen you’re actually getting less oxygen.

Buteyko came up with a number of breathing exercises to reduce hyperventilation, in order to obtain optimal levels of carbon dioxide and therefore of oxygen. Feel free to explore. Only please, do that once you’ve taken all your prescribed meds. Many Buteyko practitioners seems to be campaigning aggressively against montelukast, which certainly is an unpleasant med, but it’s also one that can effectively save you a trip to the ER.

I started last February and the initial outcomes were not very promising: I obtained some wheezing during a month when I normally don’t have asthma at all and I had to resort to albuterol for the first time in months. I must have done it wrong, displeased Kundalini or something. Anyway there were no further incidents, spring came and went (my asthma is allergic and seasonal), and at this point I can say that Buteyko exercises, when performed properly, can stop very mild wheezing. It doesn’t sound much, but it is. It is actually a big deal. Once the wheezing is pronounced then it’s too late, but when it’s a small initial symptom, doing a few minutes of Buteyko breathing will make it go away.

And if it doesn’t work, at least the online fights between Buteyko acolytes and rebirthing fans provide a lot of entertainment.